Bart Shaffer, BHP Teacher
As teachers, we’re always doing a balancing act. How to use class time efficiently, without sacrificing learning and personal connection? Enter BHP Score, and more specifically, Revision Assistant (RA). Revision Assistant is a platform students can use to compose formal writing assessments and receive real-time feedback, called signal checks, as they write. This application has been in classroom use since 2016 and has proved helpful in allowing students to independently improve writing proficiency. This, in turn, gives the teacher more time to give individual instruction to those who need it. RA is the backbone of BHP Score and key to the BHP writing approach and the student writing growth reported each school year. See an example of the kind of feedback students get from RA and BHP Score in the header image.
When BHP rolled out the Revision Assistant functionality, to be honest, I was wary. I questioned whether students were really learning how to be better writers, or if they were just learning the tricks to make the software give them a better grade. I have spent the past year trying to leverage RA as a scaffold to achieve student writing growth—instead of just a way to show students their grade on an essay. This has taken some work–and a shift in mindset–from both myself and my students.
When you enter most of my fellow English language arts colleagues’ classrooms, they’re engaging students in a workshop structure/process to teach and practice writing. Over the course of several days, they teach certain writing concepts, give students time to practice, engage them in revision and peer-edit. Finally, the teacher grades the prompt. This is amazing work—but it can take five to ten days to write one essay! As a history teacher, I feel ill-equipped to teach writing in this way. I just don’t know the scaffolds needed to support varying levels of students toward growth in their writing. But Revision Assistant has given me the perfect platform to do just that. I can sit down and provide individualized feedback to students, while RA keeps them moving and growing!
I learned several critical things about using BHP Score and RA to teach writing this past year:
1. Teach Revision Assistant—not just the rubric: The course does a great job of helping students learn the BHP Writing Rubric, but before students use the BHP Score/RA software for the first time, be sure to teach a lesson on how to use it. Remind them that clicking Signal Check 1,000 times will not help them. Instead, set guidelines like, “Only click Signal Check at the end of each paragraph.” Teach them how to read and use the feedback so that they can implement the changes in their essays. You’ll find an orientation on the program at the start of the year is well worth it.
2. Write more—not better: Many students will spend all their time trying to improve their Signal Checks—and find that they can’t get their scores to improve. Tell them the best way to improve their scores is to just write more, instead of spending all of their time revising the one or two paragraphs they’ve done. Revision should happen at the end of the process! Don’t let them fixate too much on one small part of their essay. The complete package is what matters.
3. Use Revision Assistant as a scaffold: Let students use the tool as much as needed on an early Investigation, but then start to remove the scaffold. For example, on Investigation 6 you might have them write the entire essay in Microsoft Word—and then only have 30 minutes to revise using RA. By the end of the year, hopefully they can just drop their essay into RA and achieve a high score with little feedback!
4. Make it a game: At a recent BHP Professional Learning Consortium, we discovered that RA is a way to integrate gamification into the writing process. Students will work their tails off trying to improve their RA Signal Checks. Leverage this by setting goals or even making it a competition to increase their scores!
5. Grade the Investigation yourself—and provide written feedback Even though I found it was important to read and grade each of my students’ Investigation essays myself, the report BHP Score provides students on their writing acts as a conversation piece. Print it out and share it with them; but remember, RA is not a grade to put in your gradebook. Student growth was proportionally tied to how well I assessed and coached the students based on their past writing samples and how thoroughly I went over the reports and my feedback with them.
No tool will ever replace the work we do as teachers and the individualized, personal feedback we provide our students. But if we intentionally use Revision Assistant as a scaffold so that it’s just one part of our writing instruction rather than the end-all solution, we can guide our students to incredible growth.
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About the author: Bart Shaffer has been teaching BHP since 2017 at Kent-Meridian High School in Washington. He teaches five sections of BHP to 150 (mostly) ninth-grade students. He teaches the course in a year-long, five-day-a-week format.